Henri Nouen says that it takes a lot of humiliation to build in a little humility. We can always be grateful to a kind and merciful King who is brutily committed to our sanctification. I have been questioned many times about my identity here in Middle Earth. If I am a director of a humanitarian aid agency then can I come in the humility necessary to share the gospel? Will my image as a rich foreigner polute the message that we are coming to bring? I have wrestlled with these questions. I believe in the biblical model that tells us that the suffering Saviour is best represented by suffering servants. If I am the big boss with the big bucks how do I represent the one who sacrificed so much? Fortunately the King is infinitely creative and provides answers to all our problems.
Early last summer there were some serious rains that caused a flash flood in northern Mordor. The local Duke over in Ithilian asked us to get involved. I was in the West at the time so the team decided to go in and do it without me. Frodo and the team went in with help from Gimli and developed a plan to rehabilitate a badly affected village. The team had not worked in Mordor before and they made some mistakes. Specifically they gave out a New Testament to someone who asked for one. This is a mistake for two reasons. One, the vast majority of people in Mordor can not read. Two, people in Mordor are very suspicious about outsiders. The guy who asked for a book was not seeking truth about the King. He was seeking to know the team's motives. He began to bad mouth the team and tell everyone in the village that the team was just out to 'proselytize' the people. Fortunately for the team this man had a bad reputation in the village and few listened to him.
I came back at the end of summer and we decided to take the last of the supplies across the great river Anduin to the village to finish the project. We were helping the villagers to rebuild thirteen flourmills and three water canals. Getting all the permissions to get aid directly across the river was difficult. That is the biggest understatement I have ever made. It was nearly impossible. Gondor and Mordor do not have really friendly relations and that border is a real tension point for many reasons. So, we spent about three weeks getting all the permissions necessary and we rented a boat from the Urukhai. The Urukhai is an agency that specifically helps Ismaili Muslims. We do not usually work with them but are on decent terms with them.
Finally, last October we headed off to Minas Ithil with all our permissions stamped and signed. We arrived there after an eighteen hour drive and we spent several days meeting- or rather missing government officials and finally getting their permissions. After six days we headed toward the village. Osgilioth is a village on the river with a bridge over to Mordor. Our village is about 25 kilometers upstream from the bridge. Sam, Pipen, and I crossed the bridge and walked the distance over the mountain to the village while Frodo and Merry arranged the boat and showed all our permissions to the local officials.
I was prepared to walk 25 kilometers but I was not prepared to walk it straight up and then straight down. The mountain was a nightmare and it really kicked my butt. We crossed the bridge at 4:30 in the afternoon and walked for five hours up over the mountain. There were donkey convoys on the trail so we had some company on the way. By the time I reached the village my legs were cramping furiously and I was soaked with sweat. As soon as we reached the home of the man we were staying with most of the men in the village came around and we stayed up talking late into the night. Now, you might be thinking that after I, an important foreigner had taken the time to walk all the way to their village that they would be really grateful. You don't know people from Mordor. They laughed at me and said, 'It took you five hours to get here? It only takes us three!' 'You must be really soft and weak!' Yeah, thanks a lot.
So, we made a plan. The villagers would go down to the river the next day to receive the material and get it distributed to the workers who needed it. The next morning we got up early and I hobbled down to the river and waited while Sam and Pippen went up and inspected the work that had already been done. At 11:00am the boat showed up on the other side of the river and they set it up and we waited. The materials came by truck and they began to unload and get ready and we waited. Finally, Frodo and Merry came and shouted across the river. There was a problem with the paperwork. They would fix it but it might take awhile. They left and we waited. And waited. At 5:00pm they came and shouted across the river to us. No one could cross. Up until this point it had been obvious how badly the hike had hurt me but I was not sure if it had hurt the guys. Merry shouted, 'We can't come and get you.' Sam shouted back, 'Get over here NOW!' Merry shouted, 'They told us anyone who crossed the river would be arrested.' Sam shouted back, 'We agree!' But they packed up the boat and the materials and they left. Sam, Pipen, and I walked very slowly back up the hill to the village. We would not be back in Gondor tonight. Tomorrow we would walk 25 kilometers back over the mountain. We were really down but on the way up that hill I looked up. I knew the King had us here for a reason. I spoke out loud to Him in english and I said, 'All right, I know you want us here tonight so we can share truth with these people but you are going to have to get my broken body back over that mountain in the morning!'
We sat down in our host's room and again all the leading men of the village came around to see us. There were perhaps twelve or so men there as they began to hassle us about how incompetent we were. 'We waited all day for you guys but you couldn't get the stuff across. Are you incompetent? Don't you know what you are doing? The Urukhai can get stuff here why can't you?' It was not fun. They then got tired of insulting us and started talking about drugs. There is a lot of poppy cultivation going on in Mordor and drugs was something all these guys knew all about. I looked at Pipen and said, 'Have you told them your story?' He said he had not and so he proceeded to tell them about himself.
Pipen is not ethnically from Gondor. He is actually from Angmar who fought a war not so many years ago with Mordor. But he had learned the language in order to minister to them and I agreed to have him on the team. Besides, he was a good guitar player. I knew that the King had saved him out of drugs and that his story would be amazing to those from Mordor. As he told his story they were all laughing and having a great time while he described all the drugs he was taking as he spiraled down in a cycle of self-destruction. Then the room became silent and still as he described how he had lain on the couch feeling his limbs grow cold and his heart slow down. He was going to die. Then he realized he did not know where he would go. What would become of his soul? He turned to the King whom he had heard about from a friend a few weeks before. He rolled off the couch and cried out to the King. Jesus saved him right then. He was free from the drugs and free from sin. His life was purchased by the King and he was now the King's man. They had never heard a story like this. They sat there in silence for a moment as Pipen finished and then one of the men shouted out from the back, 'So, this drug addict has come to help us?' The Sherrif stopped him cold and said, 'Quiet! This man has repented.' Slowly they all filed out. Then we sat alone with our host and his nephew- the student. The Student was about eighteen and one of the only guys in the village who could read. Our host leaned forward and said, 'Who is Jesus anyway?' Sam said, 'Who do you think he is?' He said, 'I have no idea. I have never heard of him, heard stories about him, or known anything about him.' Sam took the next two hours to tell the full story of Jesus starting deep in the Old Testement and concluding with his death and resurrection. They listened very attentively. The last twenty minutes or so the Student sat there with his mouth open and his eyes wide in amazement. He had never heard such a story before and it truly impacted him.
The next morning we left at 3:30am and walked back over the mountain. The King himself strengthened me for the journey so that I was not even tired when we arrived back in Osgilioth. Frodo and Merry told us to rest in a guest house while they tried a few more ideas on how to get the permission they needed to get the materials across the river. We went and laid down and Sam and Pipen went to sleep immediately. I just laid there. Then the King spoke to me. His voice was not audible but it was very clear. He told me that he loves us very much. He went on to say that His Word would have power when we walked in humility. It was in defeat and embarrassment that His Words would come with transforming power. We got up and had lunch. I told the guys what the King had said. I also told them he said we would not get the stuff across on the Urukhai boat. He told me very clearly he would not share His glory with them. Lesson learned. We headed back to Minas Tirith. I expected that after nine days on the road and nothing accomplished that the team would be depressed. It was one big praise and worship party all the way home. The King had used us to spread his gospel in a dark land and He had spoken to us about His love for us. We were pumped.
Two weeks later we did get the stuff across on rafts that the villagers made themselves. We visited there in early summer and our host, the Student, and several others still listen to Christian radio broadcast in their language every day. What will happen there? I have no idea. But I do know that whatever happens I will not get any credit for it. We serve a mighty King who deserves all the glory, honor, and praise.